The failure of GOP conservatism

Republicans, I suspect, are going to be drubbed this election year, but not because they gave the country more conservatism than it needed. A major reason is that they betrayed conservatism and let themselves be outwitted by their endlessly mistaken liberal opponents.

The left is arguing differently, maintaining that the right’s ideas were inadequate for this (or any other) era and that a heavy dose of these ideas persuaded significant portions of the Republican coalition to seek rescue in liberal truths.

The conservative ideas were and are good ones, though, and helped propel Republicans to control of Congress in the 1994 elections. I went to Washington as a journalist the next year, and vividly recall the GOP enthusiasm for austerity and bringing the country to a more robust reliance on the states and self instead of on a paternalistic, overly interventionist, fumbling, bloated central government.

But, to use the passive voice that politicians revert to when they get caught letting their ambitions override their ideals, mistakes were made. The list is long, but not the least of them was spending like there was no tomorrow. The Bush administration would additionally and successfully push for big-government measures and forget certain vital constitutional prohibitions, as in jailing Americans without due process.

The failings — and there were many — were often as inexcusable as they were politically devastating, but not always so grievous as they were made to sound by Democratic propaganda and a compliant press. President Bush lied us into war, we were told, only he didn’t — the claims he made about weapons of mass destruction were made earlier by President Bill Clinton and his secretary of state, by liberal senators during debate on the war resolution and by the best intelligence agencies in the world.

We were repeatedly informed that President Bush’s tax cuts were "for the rich" and had eviscerated revenues, when, in fact, it was the middle class that profited most. Revenues have mostly been above historical averages.

Even before the current downturn and after the last recession (which began while Clinton was president), the Democrats and many reporters told us how badly the economy was performing, though inflation remained next to nonexistent, growth was healthy and unemployment at historic lows.

It was said the middle class was shrinking, but it wasn’t; the middle class was getting richer by the day. It was said income was stagnant, but it wasn’t; per capita income was rising as most people progressed steadily in their circumstances.

The Democrats’ chief domestic purpose today is to give us a health insurance entitlement even as they neglect restructuring a Medicare entitlement that could sink us, and even though there are solutions to health insurance issues that would cost little. The party would edge us ever closer to the kind of welfare state an economically threatened Europe is now seeking to flee. The presumptive Democratic candidate for president, Barack Obama, spouts naive nonsense in the place of sound strategy for dealing with radical Islam, and could easily bring deadly disaster on our heads.

The overriding conservative principle is the maintenance of liberty in a constitutionally ordered democracy. Its achievement in any meaningful sense is only possible by seriously limiting a government that would substitute its coercive authority for our free will, our consciences, our individuality, all the things that ultimately make us human. An inseparable part of that liberty is a free-market economic system, without which opportunity, entrepreneurial innovation and prosperity are caged, and with which the left has a lasting quarrel.

If Democratic power increases as much as now appears likely, the party will almost surely go much further than the Republicans in waltzing away from liberty, the chief political foundation of our strength and energy. Their own excesses may bring the Democrats to political ruin as well, though perhaps not until vast damage has been done.


(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)


  1. Flapsaddle

    Aren’t you assuming that I’m an “interventionist” type despite the fact that I’ve stated above in this thread that I’m not? Like John Quincy Adams, I do not believe that we should go abroad looking for monsters to slay.

    The fact that the label has been hijacked by neoconservatives does not mean that every conservative is really a closet neocon or a close ally; after all, the presence of a bunch of counterfeit $20 bills does not make all $20 bills counterfeit – but it does require that they be closely examined.

    No, I have not any history of supporting the counterfeiters, and I do not plan to do otherwise this next election. I simply do not have to support either flavor of thief seeking a place farther up the pig-trough.

    Most sincerely,

    T. J. Flapsaddle

  2. Paolo

    Yes, but the trouble with calling yourself a “conservative” is that it no longer means “believer in small, limited government.” If G W Bush can call himself a “conservative,” then “conservatism” cannot mean “belief in small, limited government.” Any Republican who gets elected on such rhetoric is just applying eyewash. Republicans have shown, unequivocally, that THEY DO NOT MEAN IT!

    This makes them morally much worse than the Democrats. The D’s stand for socialism, though they refuse to call it that. The R’s stand for a blend of socialism and corporate fascism, and call it “conservatism.”

    Now, there are some honest, sincere “conservatives” who believe in “limited government,” EXCEPT they still want to intervene all over the globe, keep a gigantic standing army ready at all times, keep up the insane “war on drugs,” and change the education system to reflect “conservative” values. It can’t be done, brother. You will inevitably end up supporting a gigantic, overblown central government, as current history has amply demonstrated.

  3. Flapsaddle

    Libertarians and conservatives share some principles in common; a small, strictly-limited government is one of them. Since I believe that we can keep a few more things of government than do most libertarians, I think that the term conservative is more accurate. I have been referred to by others as a paleo-conservative, old-style conservative or a principled conservative.

    Most sincerely,

    T. J. Flapsaddle

  4. Paolo

    “Conservative” is now a meaningless term.

    Actually, it has been a meaningless term at least since Ayn Rand wrote her famous essay, “Conservatism: an Obituary” about forty-five years ago.

    If “conservative”, to you, means: “belief in small, strictly limited government,” then you should identify yourself as a “libertarian,” NOT a “conservative.”

  5. Paolo

    It’s amazing that an experienced reporter can make a nitwit comment like this:

    “President Bush lied us into war, we were told, only he didn’t — the claims he made about weapons of mass destruction were made earlier by President Bill Clinton and his secretary of state, by liberal senators during debate on the war resolution and by the best intelligence agencies in the world.”

    Ambrose suffers from “BIPOLAR DISORDER”–a disease characterized by thinking the D’s and R’s are not on the same team. He actually thinks that, because big-government, warmongering D’s believed something, along with big-government, warmongering R’s, therefore it must be true!

    You see, it can’t be a lie, in the view of Ambrose, if BOTH D’s and R’s agreed on it!

    The possibility that BOTH D’s and R’s might be LYING in order to further their weird, imperialist wet-dreams, does not even occur to this twit of a reporter.

  6. Sandra Price

    Well said Jim. I poured a glass of iced tea on my key board. It will be replaced tomorrow and I will tellyou what I liked about your post. I too want to sleep when people are covered with their needs. I will push academics as well as charity work. I think we can have a good compromise here.

  7. Paolo

    Republicans have always favored big government.

    Historically, the Democratic Party has a slightly better record of controlling spending and being fiscally responsible. As a Libertarian, I don’t care for either party; this is just my historical view.

    The Republican Party emerged historically from the wreckage of the old Whig Party, which was founded on the idea of “cooperation between business and government.” Sound familiar? In effect, this corporatist approach (actually, a form of fascism) united powerful business interests with powerful government interests in a mutual partnership aimed at maximizing profits for business, and maximizing power for politicians.

    Lincoln, the first Republican president, was a tyrannical, “unitary executive”, big government spender (and warmonger, to boot).

    Teddy Roosevelt, the “progressive” Republican president, expanded the government and got involved in foreign wars and intrigues (“gunboat diplomacy”) that started us down the road to empire.

    George W. Bush, the “cockiest guy I’ve ever known” (Vicente Fox), simply followed the traditional Republican way, spending like a drunken sailor and initiating unnecessary wars to expand his empire.

    Republicans have often campaigned on platforms of “conservatism” and “humble foreign policy.” If you haven’t figured out by now that they never meant it, you may be beyond hope. How many times will Lucy pull away the football before you finally realize she’ll do it every time?

  8. Jim C

    Switters , I have no fear of or trouble ” standing on my own two feet “. I am not only gainfully employed but am a quite successful long time invester specializing in oil , drilling equipment and small cap high techs ( today really sucked ) . I also would prefer to live in a country that made sure all of its citizens had access to healthcare , food and housing as a right . A country where the greedy and callous aren’t allowed to be preditory or overly selfish and the burdon is shared for all by all . In other words , a civilized , caring society . There will always be a few that are lazy , stupid , unlucky or just make bad decisions , the number of the aformentioned is probably about 2 to 3% tops in any society , I think they should be cared for as well , encouraged to be productive , but not left on the side of the road reguardless . I really tire of this selfish ” I don’t want to share ” or ” I’m a rugged individualist so you should be too crap ” . So go live in the goddamn woods . When you run into hardship , get sick , are starving or watching your children doing the same come on out and myself and the rest of the likeminded community will make sure you’re taken care of too . I would gladly have my taxes raised to accomplish this , I can well afford it , I already pay more in taxes than many people make ( even at a rate of 15% on capital gains ) . That doesn’t bother me one wit . Especially if I know no child , family or individual will be without good healthcare , food , decent housing and education . That’s the kind of kind world I would prefer to live in . That’s a world where I could sleep well at night . Not one where I lay awake worrying about my pile of money and whether someone I deem undeserving might get a nickle . But then again , I’m not a conservative .